Do you know who said the sentence, ‘The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller’?
Nope, it’s not a quote from a famous author or scriptwriter; it’s a quote from Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs understood that stories are a shortcut to building the know, like and trust factor. They get your audience to instantly connect with you, remember you and (if you do it right) buy from you.
But how exactly can you use story in your business? Well, here are six lessons from six famous authors that all business owners can learn from about storytelling.
Let’s get stuck in…
1. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov
This quote from Chekhov is probably more well known as: ‘Show, Don’t Tell’.
It’s very easy for businesses to claim they are certain things.
But let’s, for a second, imagine two companies:
- Company A tells you they pay their staff well.
- Company B publishes how much they pay their staff, just like Buffer, for example.
Which one do you believe more? The company that tells you who they are or the company that shows you who they are? It’s the latter, right?
But why must businesses show (or prove) who they are?
You might think, why do I have to prove who I am?
Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘belief-driven buying’? This is when consumers buy a product because the brand aligns with their values and beliefs.
According to a study by the Edelman Trust in 2019, 64% of people classed themselves as ‘belief-driven buyers’, an increase from 51% in 2017.
The problem is brands have never had to prove that they care about something until recently; they could just tell us they cared.
But brand trust is on the decline. People don’t believe brands when they tell us something because now we can find the proof and find out when they’re lying.
All you have to do is take a look at the news every once in a while, and you can see the stories of brand hypocrisy; for example, stories of ‘greenwashing’, where brands claim that they care about the environment but actually do things that harm the planet.
Examples of businesses that show us who they are: Everlane
Everlane is a clothing retailer that doesn’t just tell you they care about the planet, paying fair wages or being honest with their customers; they show it in everything they do.
They show you the factories where their clothing is made, and on every product page they include ‘transparent pricing’ – breaking down exactly how much each item costs to make and deliver.
2. “The most important thing for aspiring writers is for them to give themselves permission to be brave on the page, to write in the presence of fear, to go to those places that you think you can’t write – really that’s exactly what you need to write.” — Cheryl Strayed
Without a doubt, the more nervous we are to hit that publish button, the more successful our content is.
Of course, bravery in fiction writing and business writing is different, but the principle is still the same – bravery can be more impactful than writing ‘well’.
Martin (co-owner of Jammy Digital) freely admits that he isn’t the best writer. English was his least favourite subject in school, and he never would’ve predicted that writing content would build him a successful business!
What made Martin successful at content marketing and able to generate leads and sales for was not good writing. It was brave writing.
Writing articles like how much we charge for a website or the problems with WordPress (our chosen platform) made him nervous, but people appreciated that honesty.
Do you really have to be brave?
Creating content that your competitors don’t dare to touch is one of the few ‘shortcuts’ to building huge amounts of trust with your audience.
Sharing your opinions, stories and experiences–especially when they go against the grain–is one of the best ways you can build trust and a loyal following of fans.
Sometimes, you will need to put your head above the parapet
Example of businesses that show they’re brave!
A good example of bravery in content is from South London based estate agents, Bartlett and Partners, with this article: Why we are more ‘expensive’ than other estate agents in Richmond, Twickenham & Teddington.
In this article, they explain that, yes, their estate agency fees are higher than other estate agency fees, and they go on to explain why that is.
It takes a brave business to admit that they are more expensive openly! But what they’ve also done is explain how they’re different and how using their services will help sell your property much faster without dropping the price.
3. “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” — George Orwell
More broadly, we interpret this to mean take out the waffle. Stop trying to make yourself look clever by using grandiloquence (see what we did there?)
Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t use big words IF your audience understands them. A doctor presenting to other doctors would quite rightly use scientific terminology for body parts or diseases. And would probably gain a few funny looks if they didn’t!
So we’re not saying avoid all technical terms or longer words, but make sure that the words you use are ones that your audience fully understands.
Plus, it never hurts to explain things, even if your audience is well-versed in what you are talking about. The less someone has to think about your words, the easier it is for you to communicate your point.
That’s why visuals like metaphors, similies, anecdotes, and stories work incredibly well. It cuts through the time it takes for your audience to gain understanding.
Example of businesses using simple language to connect with their audience
We’re going to the OG of storytelling for business, Steve Jobs and the launch of the iPhone. This example is used by copywriters everywhere, and with good reason.
While every other MP3 Player manufacturer in the world advertised their products by listing a complex list of features (that made no sense to anyone but them), Apple led with this…
The phrase ‘1000 songs in my pocket’ cuts through the noise. The audience (even a super technical one) doesn’t have to figure out how much space X amount of GigaBytes actually is.
The phrase ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ tells you two amazing benefits you gain from an iPod – 1000 songs (plenty of choice without limits) and it fits in your pocket (for any oldies like us reading, fitting a walkman in your pocket was impossible in those days!)
Even the techiest of people can appreciate this simplicity in language and cutting through the jargon to get to the product’s real benefits.
4. “Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.” — Kurt Vonnegut
Have you ever read a blog post and thought… ‘how long is this going to take to get to the damn point!’
We love this quote from Kurt because it rings true for brands, too; writing should either…
- Reveal character – or, in a business sense, showcase your tone of voice and brand personality.
- Advance action – or, in a business sense, deliver value that helps your audience or gets them to take that next step with you.
Everything else is quite simply fluff.
This means cutting out the crap. For example, let’s say you have a blog post about website design tips and open it with the line ‘Having a website is important because…’ The audience already knows this (that’s why they’re looking for tips on improving their website!)
If it doesn’t add value and it does add personality, put it in the bin!
Do you really have to add personality as well as deliver value?
We always say this to our content writing clients – value no longer cuts it! Of course, you want to make your content valuable, BUT there is TONS of value out there.
If you want to learn about anything, you can pretty much guarantee that the internet has the answer. What makes you different is how you package your value. Use unique angles, stories, anecdotes, etc., because this will make you memorable.
Think of it this way: We could’ve titled this blog post ‘7 writing tips for businesses’, but that’s been done to death! This is a unique take that’s ours alone.
Example of a business that delivers value and personality
Andrew and Pete deliver TONS of value in their content, freely giving away their secrets to business success. But their content also packs a punch with personality too. Reading their content gives you a real sense of who they are.
Take this excerpt (above) from a blog post about how to handle sales objections, where they say everyone (and their nan) has had a bad experience with someone in SEO!
They often use humour, funny phrases, stories and GIFs to make their content stand out.
5. “The very act of asking a question makes people want to stick around and find out the answer. The power of asking a question is enormous.” – Lee Child
What’s the one thing that is 100% guaranteed to make someone stop scrolling?
It’s that. ⬆️
Ask a question that people want an answer to.
If you’ve ever read a Jack Reacher book (by Lee Child), then you’ll know the agony of wanting to know the answer to the question posed at the start of the book – usually, who is responsible for the grisly murder that’s just happened.
Well, it’s no different for us business owners. If we want someone to pay attention to our content, ask a question your audience is dying to know the answer to.
If you can make it a question that relates directly to the pain they are experiencing, you are guaranteed to get their attention.
Do you have to answer the question?
Yup. If you ask a question, make sure you answer it. Deliver on your promise and satisfy your audience with your answer.
Imagine reading a whodunnit, and you never actually get to find out…well, who did it! That’s what it’s like when you pose a question and fail to answer it. Or answer it in some vague, fluffy way that invites more questions and confusion.
Examples of business owners who ask great questions
Daniel Priestly, author of Key Person of Influence, often poses questions on his social media platforms that his audience is eager to know the answers to.
It’s a simple technique, but it works well because…
- Daniel answers the question in depth, and people have become accustomed to his answers. They know he’ll answer the question and give them something new and exciting to think about or implement in their business.
- He asks questions other people aren’t answering – he comes up with questions his audience are interested in but hasn’t been covered before. This is what makes it so exciting.
6. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”– Maya Angelou
This is one of our favourite lessons because the more you create, the more creative you become. We love it because it’s true. This is why, over time, we’ve gone from tutorial-type content to using:
- Unique examples
The more you create, the more addictive it is!
Example of a business owner who never stops being creative…
Without a doubt, it’s our favourite business writer, Ann Handley. We don’t get excited about email newsletters, but Ann’s is perfect.
Every two weeks, she sends out a masterpiece in an email – always funny, often poignant and leaves you learning something new every time.
Ann is so brilliant at storytelling that you forget she’s telling a story; you just become immersed in what she has to say!
The newsletter is called Total Annarchy (she’s also good with puns!)
Remember these six rules…
So remember, just follow these six writing rules inspired by the famous authors above!
- Show, don’t tell
- Be brave
- Cut unnecessary words and jargon
- Show your personality
- Ask good questions
- Keep writing!
If you’d like to test how good your content is – where you’re shining bright and where you could improve, then don’t forget to take our scorecard and get your score!
Owner at Jammy Digital, Digital Marketing Specialist and Writer of Young-Adult Fiction.